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8/5/2011
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Gmail Preview Pane Mimics Microsoft Outlook

A new, optional Gmail layout lets users view the content of messages in a preview pane reminiscent of Microsoft Outlook. Learn how to enable the feature and what it can do.

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Users accustomed to Microsoft Outlook have long criticized Gmail for its quirky interface. Today Google announced a new option in Gmail Labs that lets users enable an Outlook-esque preview pane on their Gmail interface. The new Preview Pane feature will look familiar to users who've been working with Gmail on tablet devices, where it has been available by default for several months.

To enable Preview Pane on your Gmail account, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner of the Gmail window to access Gmail Labs, select Mail Settings, and click the Labs tab in the Settings menu. Scroll down the Preview Pane (labs options are listed alphabetically), click the radio button labeled "Enable," and then scroll either back to the top or all the way to the bottom to click Save Changes.

At first glance, Gmail's Preview Pane remarkably similar to the Reading Pane in Microsoft Outlook, which should make it a welcome sight to users who've switched to Gmail from Outlook and long for a more familiar interface. Unlike Outlook, however, Gmail Preview Pane retains Gmail's conversation nesting format, so users will find entire conversation threads nested within the preview pane. To move up or down the nested thread, just click the sender and subject line for the entry you want to read, as you would in an ordinary Gmail thread.

Users who want an even more Outlook-style experience can disable the conversation grouping by accessing the General tab within Mail Settings and clicking the radio button labeled "Conversation view off." This isn't a new option, but it gains new significance for Preview Pane users.

As with Outlook, Gmail Preview Pane offers multiple view options via a drop-down menu located in the upper-right corner of the message list. The default view is No Split, in which no preview pane is visible at all. Users can also choose either a horizontal split or a vertical split, according to preference.

Gmail Preview Pane
Gmail Preview Pane

Gmail will automatically mark a message as read after three seconds of viewing in the preview pane. This setting is user-configurable under the General tab of Mail Settings. Next to the Preview Pane entry there, a new drop-down menu is labeled "Mark a conversation as read:" Users can choose intervals of immediately, after 1 second, after 3 seconds, or never.

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